Peated whisky is most often associated with the Scottish island of Islay, where names like Laphroaig and Ardbeg have become synonymous with smoky drams. But Islay isn’t the only place where peaty whisky is made. In fact, there is far more diversity within the peated category than you might imagine, and the possible food pairings for peaty whiskies are equally varied.
“To me, nothing balances a peated whisky better than nice, buttery salmon,” explains Marc Therrien, executive chef at Keeneland, the legendary thoroughbred track—and culinary and event destination—in Lexington, Kentucky. “The whisky imparts a smoky, sharp, tannin type of flavor when sipped. This salmon dish is savory, sweet, astringent, pungent, sour, and salty all in one shot, and really complements those complex flavors.”
Pour This, Pair That: Peated Whisky and Torched Seared King Salmon with Togarashi, Japanese Cucumber, and Shoyu
Pour: Peated whisky
Tastes like: The process of drying malted barley using peat smoke is an age-old tradition in Scotland, and peated malt has made its way to other parts of the whisky world. The peated grain imparts distinct smoky, savory, sometimes even medicinal notes, though levels of smoky flavor in the final whisky vary dramatically. Flavors such as bacon, warm rubber, and tar are not uncommon, and are often balanced by sweeter notes of chocolate, fruit, malt, and more.
Five to try: Ardbeg Corryvreckan (95 points), Laphroaig Triple Wood (93 points), Highland Park The Light 17 year old (92 points), Kornog Roc’h Hir (91 points), Amrut Peated (90 points)
Pair: Torched Seared King Salmon with Togarashi, Japanese Cucumber, and Shoyu
Why it works: With assertive flavors like the ones typically found in the best peated whisky, this dish won’t be overwhelmed by such drams, but instead will complement them, framing the savory and sweeter notes with ease.
Torched Seared King Salmon with Togarashi, Japanese Cucumber, and Shoyu
This recipe serves 6.
For the shoyu sauce:
- 1 green onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon sriracha hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lime juice and zest
For the cucumber salad:
- 2 Japanese or English cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and sliced thin on a bias
- 1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- Kosher salt to taste
For the salmon:
- 1 lb. high-quality king salmon (skin removed)
- ¼ cup grapeseed oil, plus 2 Tbs.
- ¾ cup togarashi seasoning (available on Amazon and at specialty markets)
1. Make the shoyu sauce by mixing all ingredients. This can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator until needed.
2. Make the cucumber salad by mixing all ingredients and chilling in the refrigerator while you prepare the salmon.
3. Heat 1/4 cup grapeseed oil in a sauté pan over high heat until it starts to ripple and light white smoke rises from the oil. Reduce heat to medium-high and quickly sear the salmon for 20 seconds on each side. (Or you can use a kitchen torch: Place salmon on a salt block or a sheet pan and gently brush 2 Tbs. grapeseed oil onto the top. Slowly blow-torch salmon with even strokes to lightly sear without burning. Carefully flip fish and torch other side.) After searing, chill the fish for 20 minutes in the refrigerator.
4. Remove chilled salmon and brush all over with remaining grapeseed oil. Lightly press togarashi on top and bottom of filet.
5. Using a very sharp knife, carefully slice fish from end to end into ¼-inch thick slices. Serve on top of cucumber salad, ladling shoyu sauce on top.